Alaska's Stevens pleads not guilty; trial set for Sept. 24

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska was arraigned Thursday afternoon in federal District Court in Washington, where he pleaded not guilty to seven counts of failing to disclose gifts he allegedly received from an oil services executive.

Stevens waved to television cameras on his way into the courthouse, and left the hearing with his arms around his wife and daughter. If he's convicted, he could face an unspecified fine and as much as five years in prison.

Stevens' lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, asked for the trial to be moved to Alaska and held well in advance of the Nov. 4 general election. U.S. District Jude Emmet G. Sullivan set the trial for Sept. 24, and prosecutors said they would move quickly to turn over evidence to the defense. Sullivan set a Aug. 19 hearing date on the change of venue request.

Prosecutors said evidence includes video and audio tapes and "consensual monitoring," and that they would share it with Stevens' lawyers' once the lawyers provide a 5GB hard drive.

Stevens wasn't required to post bond, only to surrender his passport.

The 84-year-old lawmaker, a former federal prosecutor, has filed briefs with the Supreme Court and has prosecuted wrongdoers, but Thursday's court appearance was his first as a defendant in a federal criminal case.

Stevens is charged with making false statements about more than $250,000 worth of goods and services that he allegedly received from VECO Corp., a now-defunct Anchorage-based oil services and construction company, and from its chairman, Bill Allen.

Most of the illicit alleged gifts to Stevens from 1999 to 2006 came during a renovation that doubled the size of a house he owns with his wife, Catherine, in Girdwood, Alaska. VECO employees and contractors performed architectural design services, put the house on stilts and installed a new three-bedroom first floor, a finished basement, a garage, a Viking gas range and a wraparound deck, according to the indictment.

While Stevens paid a construction firm for its work, he never reimbursed VECO or its contractors, even while staying involved in the progress of the work, the indictment said. In a 2000 e-mail, according to the indictment, Stevens described Allen and his employee as "spark plugs" and told Allen, "Everyone who's seen the place wants to know who has done the things he's done . . . we are really pleased with all you have done. Hope to see you and the chalet soon."

Stevens also is accused of trading his vintage Ford Mustang and $5,000 to Allen in the spring of 1999 for a new Land Rover Discovery worth about $44,000, a car he told Allen he wanted for his daughter, Lily. Stevens' Mustang was worth about $20,000 at the time, according to the indictment.

Meanwhile, as Stevens then served as the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Allen and VECO sought his help with international projects, grants from the National Science Foundation and funding for a natural gas pipeline on Alaska's North Slope, the grand jury charged.

Allen and Richard Smith, a former VECO vice president of community affairs and government relations, pleaded guilty in May 2007 to making more than $400,000 in corrupt payments to public officials from Alaska. Allen's plea probably was the biggest blow to Stevens, because he agreed to cooperate with investigators in return for leniency.


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